The year is 1970, a time chilled by the events of the Cold War. The US–Soviet relations are even more strained by Soviet fishing in US waters. A negotiation is set up at sea, and hence two enemy vessels meet at the coast of Massachusetts, near Martha’s Vineyard. On board of the Sovetskaya Litva, Lithuanian radio operator, Simas Kudirka, realizes his one-time chance and leaps over the water on board of the USCGC Vigilant. Due to poor timing and the flammable political situation, the American crew is forced to reluctantly hand the man seeking refuge back to the Soviets after hours of hiding.
This incident alone would constitute the makings of a movie, but in Kudirka’s case, this was only the beginning. Unlike now, during Cold War, the United States operated on the political principle that any defectors seeking a better life would be allowed to do so. Kudirka’s handover attracted media attention and ignited public outrage, which saw the Lithuanian seaman become the symbol of all those seeking liberty. There is no spoiler in revealing that Kudirka survived his ordeal, but the final turn of events before freedom comes as a surprise.
The documentary directed by Giedrė Žickytė is an all-round combination of archive materials, interviews with all sides involved and the sympathetic Kudirka’s own vivid account of the events in their actual locations. The result is an engaging film that easily slides into the “stranger than fiction” category. It is no surprise, that Kudirka’s story was also adapted into a 1978 TV movie starring Alan Arkin as Kudirka and Donald Pleasence as the Soviet Captain.